Repost: Last Minute Gift Guide for the Social Justice Set

Why am I reposting a year old gift guide? Because:

a) I am lazy and updating this blog is too much effort

b) I am still bitter about having taken over a colleagues’ course this term and having to administer multiple choice tests

c) did I mention B yet

This is the one where I lay down the guilt trip in the hopes of getting you to give twice, three times if you use your gifts as a way to open discussion about women’s rights globally, this holiday season. Categories include: Arts & Crafts (cards, clothes, jewelry), Magazine subscriptions, young adult books, mystery bundles, and direct gifts to women and children  in need

Arts and Crafts

buy hand made cards by Columbian feminist collective Taller de Vida ($6 each or set of 5 for $25) – cards, and bookmarks not pictured, are made by a feminist collective in Columbia that is empowering women through art and self-sufficiency, run by and for Columbian women. They make the cards exclusively out of flowers and plants, by hand, images vary. These cards not only make great art work, killing two birds with one stone, they support the work of indigenous feminists.

Jewelry from the Mitra Bali Artist Collective ($20 and up) – These beautiful gifts support subsistence level artists, primarily women, who use sustainable local resources to meld artistic vision and skill with the desire to be self-sufficient and they are as gorgeous as any conflict diamond you might be tempted to buy otherwise.

African Mudcloth bags and totes from One World Projects ($14-$40) – these wallets and bags are helping Mali women and men become self-sustainable, they encourage a discussion of cross-gender cooperation as traditionally men make the cloth and women do the intricate designs and they look good when you have drag books from class to class or office to home 🙂

Love Shrines from Crafty Chica ($12.99)- these gifts are unique because they meld the basic design of the kit with your own mementos. You can make one for the person you are gifting in advance or sit down with them and make it during the time when the holiday gets too be to hectic and you need arts and crafts to bring you back down from tensionville, they also make great healing arts work and can help teens work on their issues creatively opening the door for a joint project that could help you talk to your teen without prying, and they support a Latina artist all at the same time.

Jewelry from NightLight, a program that supports women, young men, and children who have been trafficked into sex work around the world.

Shirts/Blouses from Shona Crafts ($15.99-22.99) – These shirts are made by differently-abled women in the DRC to help turn the tide of ableism against women and ensure sustainable development that includes them.

Window flower Journals from General Welfare Pratisthan and Free A Child ($14) – These journals not only give your gift recipient the chance to explore both their inner and outerworld but help provide needed sustainable sources of income for young women and girls escaping sex-trafficking.

Handmade Jewelry from Swaziland Women’s Artist Collective ($12 and up) – You can get a unique piece of Jewelry and support over 750 women artists working to sustain themselves and participate in discussions about women’s issues and women’s rights.

Jewelry and Bags from Conserve India ($13.50 and up) – These beautiful items are not only made by women but are made out of discarded plastic bags that are ruining the environment. (learn more about the effort to impact India’s environment through women made textiles here.)

Peace Baskets from Darfur ($38) – These baskets are made primarily by female refugees in Darfur looking to escape the poverty of displacement and refugee camps and the make great heavy duty alternatives to shopping bags at the grocery store (ie helping you help the environment) or stand alone art pieces in your home.

Silk Bags from Vietnam ($38) – handcrafted silk bags from Vietnam are made by women, helping to revive artistry from pre-Vietnam war era, and ensuring rural women and girls have alternative economic choices to trafficking and hard labor.

Tortilla Holders from Mujeres por La Dignidad ($10) – handcrafted, simple decoration, keeps your food warm and supports women.

Jewelry from Native Harvest ($9.95 and up) – these items, and other more expensive items in the Native Harvest store, help support Native American Education, Fair Trade and Environmental activism by indigenous peoples, and the feminist work of Winona LaDuke.

Magazines For the Reader and/or Budding Activist in The Family


Gift Subscription to: Left Turn Magazine ($25) – Left Turn Magazine is one of the oldest ongoing independent magazines of its generation, and covers decidedly activist, radical, feminist, critical race, and class issues. It is made by activists around the world engaged in critical praxis for social justice. You can pick up a few choice editions for $5 each, bundle them with pretty wrapping and a little card promising a full year of enlightenment. Might I suggest bundling Issue 32: Igniting the Kindred (LGBTQ), Issue 24: Say it Loud (black left), and Issue 18: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (the feminism issue is sold out). Even if you just give a card with a not about getting the subscription, you can always type up a nice note on a card stock with the words “better than money” at the top and put in the money pocket of one of those cards pre-designed for you to insert money. Either way, this gift subscription will not only provide hours of enlightenment and news for the person you are gifting, but it will also ensure the continued survival of one of the last truly independent media magazines of its caliber.

Gift Subscription to: Make/Shift ($20) – Make/Shift is an anti-racism, transnational, pro-queer rights feminist magazine produced by a women’s collective (which includes woc, trans women, differently-abled women, etc.) and featuring many of the women of color and LBTQ feminist bloggers who are traditionally overlooked by mainstream-“alternative” publishers and feminist magazines. Again, you can do a bundle with a card for $5.95 per back issue; might I suggest issues 3, 5, and 6 (but any issues would delight). Or you can use the card stock/money card idea to make a subscription sans issues look fancy. Either way, this gift subscription will not only encourage critical thinking about women and feminism from a perspective that centers all women, you can trust that you are giving to a magazine whose main head quarters are not in a gentrification hotspot that has shoved out most or all of its elder residents and residents of color like other feminist magazines, and know that you are helping keep decolonized feminist thought in print.

For the Young/er Adult Reader (& a few adult reads as well)

How about a bundle of books that don’t reduce women to self-abusing whiny girlfriends or mask their considerable intellectual talents by centering the stories of the boy/s they hang out with? Each of the sets listed below feature strong girls and young women who never give up who they are to make friends or date. Forthcoming reviews of all of these bundles will be on the blog.

The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld ($34.99 for 4 books) – The Uglies is about two girls trying to find there way in a world that privileges beauty and conformity. On their 16 birthday, everyone in the world receives plastic surgery to become “pretty” and part of the surgery also includes the loss of their will to question or engage in advocacy of any kind.On the eve of their 16 birthdays, two girls find themselves face to face with the authorities behind the procedure and they must decide what kind of world they really want to live in. As the series unfolds the conflict between the two girls, and that they have with themselves about who they want to be and how, unfolds amidst a back drop of intentional and unintentional revolution. Westerfeld’s world is white and his characters are described in detail so there is no imagining your way out of it, the third book includes people of color outright and the fourth offers a multicultural world, including Asian American main characters, but is largely unconnected to the central plot of the other three books. There are no centered queer characters either.

The Morganville Vampire Series by Rachel Caine (1st 2 books 9.99/ series is 6.99/bk) – Young Claire Danvers arrives in a dead-end town with a low ranked college hoping to do her two years there as she promised her parents and move on to MIT, unfortunately, she falls afoul of the meanest girl in town and finds herself living with a ghost, a goth, and a slacker trying to avoid her and the vampires who protect her. Unlike other vampire stories, Rachel Caine creates a world where vampires are unapologetic, ruthless, and yet markedly vulnerable and human beings are neither infatuated with them nor ignorant of the prices they have to pay to stay alive and free in a town run by them. Claire Danvers is strong, intelligent, and willful and she often weighs all sides with insight beyond her years while always coming across as a typical teenage girl, falling in love, making friends, and wanting to live her life free of nagging parents. Morganville is a decidedly white world that suffers from mildly offensive stereotyping when the occasional character of color arrives; However, Caine leaves much of the description of the characters to the reader to fill in which means you can imagine them anyway you’d like (except for Michael and Eve who are described in detail), and she does try to bring in pivotal African American characters closer to the end of the story whose centrality to the plot cannot be overlooked. (There are no queer characters, but Caine did choose an out gay actor to depict Sam Glass, a key secondary character, on her website, which cracks me up).

An Octavia Butler Bundle ($9.50/ book) You will have to make this one yourselves as they are not bundled together or part of an ongoing series, but these books by Octavia Butler all feature contemporary themes in Sci Fi fantasy with African-American main characters and multicultural, and some times queer, casts of characters. For the vampire lover, Fledgling, a world populated by vampires and genetically modified 1/2 human and 1/2 vampires who are being hunted by pure breds who don’t like them or the humans. It’s a complex world that weaves issues of race, gender, and environment together with a battle royale near the end. Post-Apocalyptic fans will enjoy The Parable Sower and The Parable of the Talents, like other great works in this genre, Butler creates a wide tapestry of critique about consumerism, environmental degredation, and the rise of gated communities into a scifi meets fantasy thriller. Unlike many of these stories however, Butler also offers a tale of hope and rebirth rather than just the simply myopia of self-centered community fail that has become the norm in this genre. All three of these books center black women and girls, make diversity a key imperative to our survival, and the latter has a strong critique about the way the world views black female leadership. They also include queer characters.

A Nalo Hopkins Bundle – again, you will have to make the bundle yourself which makes it more expensive. Start with Brown Girl in the Ring ($11.89), an Afro-Caribbean Canadian novel set in a future where the rich have abandoned the inner city except to harvest body parts from the poor and one young Afro-Canadian girl learns to fight back through old ways and new spirituality, Midnight Robber ($7.99), a story of an Afro-Caribbean girl who has to find a way to transform herself into the Robber Queen in order to save herself from magical world of New Half World, The New Moon’s Arms ($9.60) , the story of a young girl who develops psychic powers as she approaches puberty.

Multi-Culti Magical Realism Bundle: Esperanza’s Box of Saints by Maria Escandon ($14), tells the story of a grieving mother’s search for her presumabl,y dead daughter after a saint comes to tell her she is still alive, When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai ($5.95) a novel that combines Chinese mythology, real historical female figures, and API women’s stories through time and space in a trickster tale, The Bone Whistle by Eva Swan ($7.95), the story of a Native American girl who is knowingly caught between two world, rez and western world, and unknowingly caught between two others, human and supernatural, as she comes to terms with one she learns how to navigate the other, and Cimmerian City by Rae Lindley, Pharmacuetical companies search for ever increasing prophet has split the world into two “races” the vampire-like people changed forever by bad meds and the human beings where medical companies are the aristocracy, a secret agent in the vampire-like race is about to change it all, ideal story for today’s current issues. Night Biters by AJ Harper (), the author wanted to provide a multicultural series of alt fiction for YA b/c she missed it herself, this is the first novel in her proposed series featuring a multicultural cast of vampires and vampire slayers living in LAHere are some other places to look to make your bundle: La Bloga “Sci Fi, Latinos, Chicanos and Aztecs in Outer Space” and SciFi Latino Blog (note, many of her posts are similar to mine in the sense that they find minor or secondary Latin@ characters in the U.S.)

Mystery Bundles

For older readers who can’t get enough of female centered mysteries these bundle or some combination of them should work the trick:

Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place ($6.95) and Stay ($8), these two books tell the story of lesbian feminist detective Aud Torvignen and her investigation into both homophobic and domestic violence related criminal cases, they are packed full of pain and haunting, intense mystery, and astute feminist critique on violence against women. They are among my favorite lesbian detective novels, though they have no characters of color.

The Virginia Kelly Series by Nikki Baker (between $2-$6.95/book), black lesbian detective Virginia Kelly tries to manage a hit or miss love life with female centered mystery cases in a series that has been called a breath of fresh air in a decidedly segregated genre.

Chicana Mystery Bundle – Mary Beal’s Angel Dance ($1.50) detective Kat Guerrera is former military turned PI who is trying to solve a case while also wooing a feminist writer in a mystery that once again centers violence against women, sexuality, and feminism and The Conquest by Yxta Murray ($12.30) a literary mystery in which a female book restorer who endeavors to prove that the memoir of a lesbian Aztec woman who plots ways to stop Cortez from destroying the “new world.”

Direct gifts

Instead of donating money in someone’s name or simply donating money in your own name this year, why not give gifts to women that will help them empower themselves and move beyond the cycle of charity and poverty that has become all too normal on the left?

Tool kit ($25) – this basic carpenter kit by Women for Women International, includes the tools and training a woman needs to become a basic skilled carpenter in her own country. Not only does this gift help a woman become self-sufficient, it challenges gender norms in most countries, and invites the recipient of your gift (if you give the donation in some else’s name as a dual gift) to think about what decolonized feminism really means.

donation to Danish School for Girls in Afghanistan ($25 and up) – RAWA run Danish school for girls is the only girls school in rural Farah Province. It has been educating and empowering rural young girls since 2002. A gift to the school helps curb teenage pregnancy, female poverty, and exploitation of girls all of which go down when girls educated at similar rates to boys, it also supports internal efforts to educate girls divorced from U.S. war interests, and finally, when given in the name of someone else as a dual gift, it empowers your gift receiver to not only think about decolonized feminism but also to invest in learning about Muslim feminism.

Sterile Childbirth Kits from Partner in Health ($15 for 3 women) – These kits provide basic sterile equipment (exam gloves, razors, umbilical cord clamp, sterile gauze, washcloth, and soap or antibacterial wipes) for rural clinics in Haiti, Rwanda, Malawai, or Lesotho. These kits will help up to three rural women hoping to give birth to healthy babies and turn the tide of avoidable infant mortality while encouraging your gift recipient (if you donate in someone else’s name) the opportunity to discuss what real decolonized reproductive rights look like.

Scholarship to Women with Disabilities and Development Leadership Program ($10-$100)- You can donate directly to Mobility International and earmark the donation to support their women’s programs, which include the Leadership Program to train and share information about supporting differently-abled women around the world and has previously funded women’s sustainability projects like building functional wheelchairs in developing countries or advocacy for accesible roads, sidewalks, and housing. Not only does this donation help women become self-sufficient, it helps women train each other for self-sufficiency and ensures your gift recipient remembers that women includes both temporarily able bodied and differently abled women and that ensuring their success globally means more than exporting discarded aids from the “first world.”

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Advertising for Traffickers

In 2008, one of my students in a global feminisms course I was teaching brought in a Google Ad for dating Indian women that kept popping up on her yahoo mail account. She pointed out how the ad capitalized on a generic image of Indian exoticism both in its images and text. She encouraged the class to consider what type of email they used outside of the university provided one because free email was being paid for through marginalization of women of color.

Bindi Girl Exhibit – Prema Murthy

(amazing feminist critique of exotic erotic images of Indian women)

We had just finished watching two separate documentaries on child sex workers in India at the time and one of the students asked if there was anyway to know whether or not the advertised “dating site” was involved in trafficking. My answer was to send them back to Google to do research. I told them to ask Google:

  1. how it screens its ads
  2. if there are any ethical standards related to safety (ie child safety, anti-trafficking, etc.)
  3. general questions about race and gender in its ads

The responses they received were fairly expected. Google does not screen its ads for trafficking nor check the background of the companies that place ads through Google. Their argument is that the volume of ads placed with them is too high to do the kind of individual human rights work implied by such a check. They also do not choose the ads you receive on your pages, so there is no standard form they could use to determine who sees what, ie boycotting yahoo would not stop those ad from showing up on other sites nor would everyone who used yahoo see those ads. Instead, Google uses a cookie system to track your internet usage that generates ads based on your supposed preferences. Since the program is based on a heterosexual white male model, that means if you spend a lot of time on sites about women, you are likely to receive dieting, shopping, and dating ads or if you spend a lot of time on sites about India or women of color in general, you will receive dating ads specializing in hooking men up with women of color. The assumption in both cases is that you are either a man, needing a heterosexual dating services, or a heterosexual woman needing a man, and therefore needing to meet beauty myth standards. To cover its basis it sends both kinds of pop ups to you.  As implied, these ads not only represent gender bias by centering both male needs and female insecurity but also implicate you in heterosexism and potentially racism, since the ads seldom include sites that are queer inclusive nor those that fail to peddle in exoticism assuming a white male audience looking for the “dark mysteries” of the “exotic erotic”.

Besides the invasion of privacy aspects, this makes Google seem fairly benign. Google does not make the ads nor determine who receives them based on any disregard for your politics or rights. However, the answer also reveals two key issue: (1) Google is primarily a search engine with both human and program-based web crawlers and (2) Google plants cookies to track usage. So why is checking basic information on the people who place ads too difficult a task? It seems that while people are not likely to be forthcoming about using the internet to traffic women, Google’s own search engines should be able to reasonably flag connections to known traffickers and subsequently deny advertising space. Given the volume of ads, it could not guarantee 100% success but it could be a step in the right direction.

The second set of questions has to do with general standards and modeling. There are a number of products whose dubious connection to human rights could easily be excluded from Google ads. While this leads to questions about market based freedoms and potentially freedom of expression that I think are equally important, exclusions have long been a part of advertising strategies for certain markets. A less sticky option, would be for Google to modify the programs that select ads to stop assuming a heterosexual white male norm. Thus when cookies reported you spent considerable time on pages related to women of color, it would trigger a subset of programs that would cross-reference that usage for things like “feminism”, “social justice”, etc. in the same way that it checks larger categories like “women”, “health”, “education”, etc. So that feminists and feminist web sites were not being supported by demeaning or potentially anti-woman advertising. By anti-woman advertising I mean, for example, ads that show large women as disgusting and then try to sell you dieting pills that we all know will likely be recalled the following year for causing all kinds of health problems and even death in users, or more benign ads that focus on a sexualizing gaze at various women’s bums in order to sell you shoes. Imagine these ads popping up on body positive websites.

Take for instance, this blog. I recently discovered that there are similar ads to the one my student brought into class on my blog! These ads show up on pages about women’s sexual freedom and global feminisms. At least one shows up on a post about rape as a war crime. So on the one hand, my text is discussing women’s rights, equality, and to respect women as subjects and on the other advertising is telling you to participate in international heterosexist digital dating which may or may not be implicated in larger trafficking issues. A simple modification to Google’s programming could prevent such things from happening. However, I suspect that these types of ads generate more revenue than an ad for Make/Shift would. (There are also ads for skin lightening cream and hair straightening gel on posts about black women and beauty …)

The discovery of these ads and their offensive and contradictory placement on certain blog posts on this blog brings me back to the larger question about the meaning of “free” raised by my student. I regularly ask my students to think about “free” and “freedom” in my classes. I teach unit on reproductive justice where I point out how reproductive freedoms in the Western world were/are based on reproductive injustices to women of color, incarcerated women, and women in purposefully underdeveloped nations. The speculum itself comes from a myriad of abuses perpetrated against the bodies of enslaved black women and girls. Many advances in certain medical procedures and medications for birth control have been gained through practice or testing on marginalized women with varying forms of questionable consent. My goal in this lesson is to move them past the discourse of reproductive “freedom” to a global sense of reproductive justice in which one woman’s freedom is not bought on the backs of another’s oppression. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask who pays for my free email account? Who pays for my free blog? Isn’t my free lunch free?

For those of you who do not know, unlike other blogs, wordpress places Google ads on free blogs without the knowledge or consent of the blog owners. They recently let this practice be known because of questions raised by bloggers. WordPress claims that these ads offset the cost of providing free services to its 300,000+free blog users. WordPress and Google share the profit from these ads, bloggers receive none. You can opt out of this system by paying $120/year for your blog. Even if you are not as concerned about issues of oppression as I am, umm skin bleaching cream on a black is beautiful post had better upset you, basic math should point out that bloggers are getting worked in this system. If each time an ad pops up Google and WordPress split $1.50 even if each blog only had one visitor a day, that means they are splitting a revenue of $450,000/dy based on our collective labor while we get $120/yr in the form of a “free” site.

So it seems whether you are concerned about women’s and human rights or the market, there is a major problem here with how Google Ads work and for whom they work. Discovering these offensively placed ads on my site has not only made me have to take a good look at my own decision-making but also at the sustainability of this blog.

Ultimately, there was no real resolution to my student’s question nor the research projects and activism that it inspired amongst my students that year. Google is ubiquitous on the internet and so it seemed incredibly daunting to try and fight them collectively. Instead, we engaged in individual choice making in the hopes of making larger change. One of those choices, is that I pass out a handout on how to make complaints about Google Ads. While the most effective way to complain requires a google account and a complicated process for locating the actual complaint area on the page, you can also send a generic complaint via this link. If you see an offensive or offensively placed ad on my blog, please complain about it to Google.

Maintaining this blog, on this site, is a choice and it is a choice that is becoming more antithetical to my support of decolonized feminism every day. If you have suggestions of other blog sites that you are using and happy with, please let me know.

What a Difference Kindness Makes


I’ve been swamped with volunteer work in social justice organizations for the past few weeks since coming back from our seminar abroad. As my post have shown, the experience has not been the most positive one. Far too often I have seen young women taking advantage of other young women in the name of helping poor women, women of color, elder women, queer women, etc. As I said in a previous post, the idea is that “if you really care” you will foot the agency bill for an endless amount of labor and associated costs. And I have publicly questioned exactly who is served by this exploitation since neither the line staff nor the clients are able to function at their best under such demanding circumstances and scarcity models. Perhaps it is because it has been so much in my face lately, I have really begun to question the social service industry as an Industry or Institution rather than a helping agent for change. This, more than any other feminist conflict I have witnessed in the past 4 years of blogging has made me rethink what feminist activists involved in critical fields of women’s services are really contributing to the end of oppression of women, especially the most marginalized among us.

Then I read this post:

Hmmmm, I gave the cashier a $20. I looked in my rear view mirror and there were no more cars to pay for. So, $3.18 for my good deed of the day felt a little lack luster. …

When I make these gestures I rarely look back to see the reaction. … But this time? No such luck. I was stopped by two traffic lights in a row and she caught up with me by the second light. She rolled down her window. She searched my face for some recognition. She found none. “Thank you for this,” she said, “You don’t know what this means to me. I’m on my way to an interview. I lost my job a month ago and I HAVE to find work. I’d given these up,” and she raised her cup, “but I decided to splurge today for a little boost of confidence. Your kindness has done so much more.”

I could see that her eyes were brimming and she was fighting back tears. …

This woman’s act of kindness, done primarily out of guilt for not keeping a promise to herself to pay it forward regularly, profoundly changed one woman’s day for the cost of a cup of coffee. It may have helped change her life, by providing her the confidence in herself and in others that most of us lack these days in a world of selfishness and economic uncertainty. Who is to say?

The story reinforced my larger questions about social service agencies and their role in social justice and social change even as they dismantled them. On the one hand, this woman was able to do something I have not seen many line staff be able to do at some of the places I have been working with precisely because she was neither overworked nor underpaid to provide care to others. Her actions came from a desire to do good that was untainted by the fact doing good had become a job in which “there are only so many hours in a day” and a pittance of pay for them. And I do think that money and work are the major distinctions here because I hope that everyone that goes into social service work, especially feminists, are motivated by doing good (even when their definitions are not the best). But I think something happens when doing good is your job and not your calling; something ultimately switches off for you as you work and work and work some more for very little pay and even less institutionalized support. By creating a social service system that depends on your “commitment to the cause” and actively interprets your need for self-care, boundaries, and compensation for work done as a “lack of commitment” justice becomes part of an industrial complex in which funders get tax right offs and young, largely middle class and white, women get training and activist credibility.

At the same time, these agencies are not devoid of value to service seekers. Individual clients get an array of services that help them as individuals but do not actually challenge the system that made them seek out services in the first place. Thus, social service is self-perpetuating and it goes unquestioned in many ways because of the number of individuals whose lives have been profoundly changed (and even saved) through service. In this way, the woman who paid for the coffee and her amazing impact on the women who received it are still metaphors for the larger service industry. An individual woman did good with the limited resources she had available to her and an individual woman was moved in ways that may reverberate throughout the rest of her day or even her life. How do we quantify the impact? Should we? And if you answered we cannot and should not, then what does that mean for creating equitable work and value in social service for workers which as I argued before translates to better and more thorough service for service seekers?

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. In an ideal world, each of us would operate from a place of radical love with one another, sharing our resources, knowledge, and strength in a way that honored our interconnectedness rather than demeaned. We would recognize that need is relative and that individuals with abundance in some areas have need in others just like everyone else. In that world, there would be no need for social service because we would see someone stumble and collectively help them up without blame or shame or stigma or even self-interest. But we do not live in that world. We live in this one, where banks steal from mom and pop accounts to give to jet-setting CEOs, medical providers quantify the value of lives because insurers care less about whether you are healthy than how much you will cost them, poor people and indigenous people are asked or simply told to foot the cost of businesses environmental degradation,  and people move jobs and industries out of a country hurting for employment because they cannot exploit the labor, children, or reproductive and sexual rights of their workers or pollute the land unchecked, and they care more about profit than they do about people. In this world, where tv hosts and so-called journalists extol the rights of the rich to go on vacations, buy million dollar garbage cans, and everyone gawks at the latest celebrity craze, very few people care or help anyone so whole industries have grown up to do what we as a people have failed to do. And those industries require money to run. And that money is stretched so thin that the workers at the bottom work 80+ hour weeks, paying for phone bills, food, printing costs, etc. for the agencies for whom they work out of pocket for less money than the people at the top who get paid 3xs as much, work just as hard, but move on to middle class lives after a while never once thinking about the line staff who do not. And so we are back at the beginning.

I welcome your thoughts.

——

Images

  1. unattributed/2009
  2. clipart
  3. “China Blue”/unattributed/portable.tv
  4. “Women Gardening”/Deb Vest/2010

Displaced Women and Children

REUTERS/Alexei Osokin

I have been doing a lot of thinking on the rise of “Ethnic Cleaning” in our world lately. While there have always been examples of people turning on their neighbors and friends because of racial or religious differences from the burning out of entire African American communities in towns in the U.S. to the genocide against Jewish people and anyone who dared to support them under Hitler, sadly, we have examples great and small to choose from. Yet it seems to me that the modern period has seen much more frequent examples of ethnic cleansing across the globe. Worse, in most of these cases so-called super powers have done very little to stop them while they are in progress. We can mobilize an endless amount of troops to go fight for oil in the Middle East, regardless of how many innocent people on all sides die or are permanently warped by the experience, but we seldom rush into the face of great evil against minority people whose only crime is the color of their skin, hair, eyes, or the place where they worship. Human Rights and Corporate Interests are clearly unequal in the eyes of the modern states and we humans are losing.

This week, another vulnerable group fell prey to its neighbors while the world watched. Southern Kyrgyztan errupted in ethnic violence late Thursday when armed Kyrgyz men turned on their unarmed Uzbek neighbors. By Saturday morning, the second largest city in the region is in flames with 1000s wounded and the counted dead nearing the 100s. Uzbek areas of the nation are all but deserted and people fear that even if they survive the violence there will be no food, medical supplies, or water for them to survive the aftermath.

While men were targeted to be beaten and killed, fleeing women and children found themselves trampled in the rush to a secured border and the attempts to cross the intentionally ditched designed to stop them. Like in other ethnic conflicts, these women and children are likely being targeted for specific gendered violence and trafficking and without aid will continue to be into the future.

While you might be hoping to turn a blind eye to this conflict and wait for the moving Hollywood film that comes out in a year or two, the fact is both Russia and the U.S. are implicated in the conflict in Kyrgyztan. Both countries have military bases there and yet neither has responded with requested military aid to the people being systematically killed and burned out of the nation.

The failure to act on the part of either the U.S. or Russia is further complicated by the relationship of Kyrgyztan’s Prime Minister with both nations. Interim PM Roza Otunbayeva, is a college educated moderate with longstanding ties to Moscow, including teaching at Moscow University. She was also the UN envoy to Georgia when violence broke out there. And while Otunbayeva served in a government she herself said continued the corruption and nepotism of the nation’s past, she broke away from them in order to form a party and a platform that would see more egalitarian representation and inclusivity in the Kyrgyztan’s government and society. Her calls for help should have been met with at least some kind of response from Russians who know and have supported her and North Americans who want to continue to have a moderate in charge of a country where the hold a military base. And so one has to wonder why those calls have fallen on deaf ears except for minor humanitarian efforts on the part of Russia. With two major super power’s bases in the nation, violence should never have escalated unchecked to ethnic cleansing and burning cities. In fact a previous conflict between these same ethnic groups in 2007 was quickly put down by Russian troops, sparing huge casualties and/or genocide.

Otunbayeva is also the first female president CIS/SCO member state yet neither she nor the huddled and terrified female refugees of today’s violence have garnered much attention from mainstream feminist press. As of now, I have seen no calls to support a beleaguered female leader or women who are very likely being raped or rounded up for trafficking and certainly are homeless, displaced, and largely trapped at the border with burning cities on one side and ditches blocking their exit on the other. Unlike imperialist feminist calls to “save women” in the Middle East that aligned with western expansionism and hunger for oil and failed largely to ask what women living in the region wanted or needed, hold accountable military and counter-military strategies that targeted women and girls and made it less safe for them to go to school or be in public, or ensure that women’s rights were not discarded by this or any previous administration as they pushed forward, calls to support the women and children in Kygyrztan would align with the requests the PM herself has already made. She has asked specifically for military aid in stopping violence and detaining the engineers of ethnic cleansing in the state. She has also asked specifically for help with the people who have already been displaced and with containing and putting out the fires and other damage raging through the cities.

At this point NGOs in the region are trying to get outside aid to people and hoping that violence can be quelled long enough to restore the constitutional democracy Otunbayeva has promised.

It seems that we feminists need to take a wider and deeper look at the meaning of solidarity and global feminism. And that we people engaged in social justice also need to make more lasting connections between current processes (economic, political, and social) and old “coping skills” (marginalizing, enslavement, rape, and genocide). As I watched the news today I couldn’t help thinking about lost African American cities, the children who refused to save themselves at the cost of their targeted classmates in Rwanda while adult “peacekeepers” divested in Rwanda, the gains one, or possibly two, corrupt military bases could gain from widescale instability in Kyrgyztan, and the deadly shooting of a Mexicano in Arizona weeks before the new pass laws come into effect there. It may seem like these things are not comparable and certainly the scale of some far outweighs the scale of others. Yet, what I am arguing here is that there are cyclical patterns of power and control that ultimately erupt in violence whenever, as the saying goes, “good men do nothing.” Sitting at the intersections of feminism, critical race theory, and history, I think we have plenty of information to do things differently and I find myself wondering why people, especially women and children, have to suffer while we do not use it.

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image two: displaced women and children look on with nowhere to go on Saturday in Kygyrztan. AP Photo/D. Dalton Bennett